Manage Your Expectations
December 9, 2020
There is an irony to our lives today.
We are more wealthy than before, yet we are more discontented.
Our life is much more convenient, but we complain more about almost everything.
We are surrounded by better products, Technology, and leading a better lifestyle, but we don’t seem to experience a corresponding increase in our life satisfaction and happiness.
This is a real paradox. Why are we so uncertain and unhappy when our lifestyle is in a better place than ever before?
I have understood reading many books and listening to different experts speak- It’s all down to how we process what we experience in our mind.
At a basic level, we are unhappy when our expectations of reality exceed our experience of reality, creating an Expectation Gap.
Expectation Gap= Expectations>Reality
Where do we form our expectations from? What is the source of our expectations?
Three sources contribute to creating expectations.
- Our Imagination
- Looking Back
Let’s look at each in detail.
Expectations From Our Imagination
Whenever we decide on any choice, there is an imagined expectation. Whatever be the scenario- when selecting a new employer or partner, buying a car, deciding on a holiday destination, or electing a leader- we choose from a range of choices based on what we think will be the best for us.
We effectively choose the one we imagine will be the best of all the options we have.
We always look to maximize the utility.
The partner who will make us the happiest, the best holiday at the right price point, the leader with the power to make the change, etc. Is it conceivable that we decide in any other manner? No.
This is where all the problems are rooted.
The very option that we think will give us the best outcome undermines our happiness when we experience reality.
The new company we join, the leader we elect, the place we visit, or the product we buy will not live up to our expectations. And, this is the source of our disappointment.
Unfortunately, in this digital age, the problem gets compounded. What appears on the menu or the digital wall is not reality. Everything is airbrushed, photoshopped, and enhanced to make it look better than it actually is. The DP(Display Picture) on my phone is not how I look in real !!
- You elect a leader believing everything that gets circulated through WhatsApp forwards, and Facebook. And when he does not deliver results, you are disappointed.
- You buy your phone looking at the fantastic looks and features. No one told you about how lousy the battery is. And you are disappointed.
- You join the new place, thinking of how friendly the HR representative was and how good the Job Description is. No one told you that the culture at the place sucks.
The truth is this- Thanks to the effects of our imagination and compounded by the digital world we live in, we demand and expect more than what reality can provide.
Expectations From Benchmarking:
This expectation gap happens when we compare our reality with the reality we perceive others to have. I call it the comparison gap.
Comparison Gap= My Reality < My perception of the reality of the other person
Putting it differently, we create an expectation gap when we start judging ourselves based on what we perceive others around us have.
- You earn a $100K income, and you live in a middle-income neighborhood. You will feel rich and wealthy. On the other hand, you may make $200K, but you live in a very affluent area. Strangely, you may actually feel poor.
- You get a pay rise of 10% on a Base Salary of $200K, and someone else gets a 15% raise on a base salary of $100K. You experience dissatisfaction and disappointment. Your perception of someone else’s gain creates your pain.
- You are feeling happy and contented with your family life. A close friend of yours posts lovely photos of his exotic holiday cruise. You press the like button, but deep inside, you are disturbed with feelings of jealousy and envy.
Again Technology is playing a big part here, too, in creating an asymmetry of focus. Thanks to social networks like Facebook and Instagram, there is an overall tendency to showcase success, achievement, and positive and nice things. No one wants to showcase anything ordinary. Everyone posts their best stories and images carefully selected. The problem with this format is that we fall into the illusion of thinking that the curated content that everyone puts out is the usual standard of everyone else. So unconsciously, we see ourselves as inferior or less successful than we actually are.
Everyone is running on a hedonic treadmill striving to be happy but getting nowhere.
Expectations From Looking Back
Personal growth is an intrinsic need for all humans. We all have ambition and a desire to grow. Compared to your past, if you are growing and moving forward, you feel better. The converse is also true. You will be unhappy if you are not growing compared to your past.
The comparison with the past creates further dissatisfaction when you layer in the added impact of benchmarking yourself with someone who started along with you.
You and your friend started as interns at two different companies. He has become a CEO while you are still in middle management. Even though you have progressed well in your career compared to your past, your growth expectations have increased because of the comparison with your friend, and consequently, you feel your growth has not been good enough. There is an expectation gap here too.
This expectation gap caused by comparison with the past has some dangerous consequences.
We come across instances of very successful people who seemingly have everything in their life, but they succumb to depressive tendencies. These ultra-successful people have everything they could wish for. But, they cannot visualize a future that can be better than what their present represents currently. They experience a hope deficit in the future, leading to depressive tendencies.
Expectations are being created in our heads all the time. When these expectations do not get fulfilled, we end up with a sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
If we know this truth and if our objective is to have balance and be happy, what is the choice?
Don’t take your life too seriously. Realize it’s all a play of your mind. Learn to manage your expectations.